Jun 30, 2008

A Horse Called Holiday has opinions too, and you'll damn well hear them

A Horse Called Holiday
by Frances Wilbur
Published: 1992

I can't remember if I owned this book or not, but I do remember reading it way back when it was published, so I was pretty giddy when I got my hands on it today.

"Love has no limits to the wonders it performs."

The moment Middie sees Holiday, a beautiful chestnut thoroughbred, she knows he's the horse she's been waiting for. A horse she can take to the horse show. A horse who can win a blue ribbon.

But then Middie discovers the terrible truth about Holiday: he's deaf. And very, very scared.

Middie's always taken the easy way out. But this time that won't work.

She loves Holiday. But will that love be enough?


Meredith, or Middie, is the Caboose in her family, meaning that she was born last. Which means she was a mistake. She's all about feeling bitter about her situation, feeling down because her brother couldn't go to a private college and her sister had to share a room because she had the misfortune of existing. I guess after twelve years of being told she's her mother's "little surprise" and being called Caboose has worn her into a competitive little brat who desperately wants any and all attention she can logically demand from those around her. So you can see there's a healthy dash of sibling rivalry and angry family dynamics that keep Middie motivated throughout the book.

Middie is also horse crazy and she spends most of her time taking care of other people's horses as she saves up for her own brilliant steed. She takes lessons from some old woman called Mrs. Bailey (she's a little like Charlie Burke, if Charlie had been a woman), and gets the opportunity to exercise a chestnut thoroughbred who is magnificent and pretty and several other adjectives for the summer until his owner takes him off to give to his grandson. So Middie is understandably excited. Twelve-year-old + shiny chestnut thoroughbred = supreme happiness! right? It's like the equation that works in all of these books.

Then we've got Janet, who is Middie's sister's boyfriend's cousin who's visiting for the summer. Janet is Middie's age and rides horses and wins ribbons but is apparently scared to death of horses. Go figure. Anyway, Middie convinces Janet to come down to Mrs. Bailey's place with her to watch her ride the new horse (she specifically tells herself she's not letting Janet ride the horse...oh HELL no, there is no WAY that's happening), and because Janet is a follower by nature she seems okay with being the official tag along. She's also extremely incompetent. As in: "When somebody gets hurt, I throw up." That sort of stupid. At Mrs. Bailey's, Middie discovers that the horse, whom she names Happy Holiday temporarily, is a little crazy. But Middie is smitten and ignores Janet shrieking that the horse isn't good for her and so forth.

Now, to the horse. Holiday is a horse of many names and a long history. He used to be a racehorse called Mostly Magic when he careened off into the stands one day and injuring his leg. Then he was taken off to some canyon or whatever, where he roamed around with some horses before becoming Rusty and developed a severe hatred for ravines because he fell into one. We know about this because the text is interrupted with Holiday's occasional thoughts and musings on his past and present. It is a bit unique. I suppose. Anyway. He's also deaf, which Middie discovers by accident and then proceeds to keep secret because telling someone would mean he'd be taken away. She assumes. Turns out the owner figures out he's not a kid's horse and lets him stay there while they find a buyer for him.

When the Val Verde show comes up, Middie wants to enter Holiday, but Mrs. Bailey insists there's no way in hell, so Middie decides to enter with this other horse she's been riding, Peaches. Until the owner of Peaches decides that she'd really like to ride her instead in the owner whatever group, making it impossible for Middie to ride her. Because the show is set up for charity, all of a sudden it's okay for Middie to ride Holiday in the show, which ends badly despite Holiday showing minor glimpses of brilliance while he keeps interrupting with his memories of Brian and Darryl, former owners he let down in various ways. Middie and Holiday come pretty close to winning a few shows, but his fear of ditches pops back up and ruins everything.

Enter Mike Mitchell, heir to some fabulous thoroughbred racing farm in California. He's about two years older than Middie and is awesome. He puts down the antagonist, who has a fleeting presence in the book, and is generally the best rider ever. So because Middie knows he's awesome and is winning shows left and right, she figures she'll have Mike ride Holiday over ditches and everything will be great. Only Holiday has these memories of his former owners and acts out by trying to kill Mike. Shocked and appalled, everyone starts having second thoughts about Holiday.

Then Mike's mom offers this great "push-button" horse to Middie for free, right after Holiday's owner offers him to her for free! Stuck between two free horses, Middie initially choses the other horse before she goes and falls off of Holiday again, coming to her enlightenment that she actually doesn't want to just win tons of shows and be a winner. She wants to become a better rider, and so she decides to take Holiday instead. Then Holiday gets in a fight and winds up with blood poisoning, so they have to bond in a stall through a night before he makes his normal recovery. And Middie discovers that being the Caboose was actually a good thing because she "completes the family" or something equally sappy, so she no longer has to lust after trophies in order to feel accepted.

We end the book with a fox hunt, when some idiot girl nearly gets dragged by her horse and Middie has to jump Holiday over a ditch in order to save her. Naturally everything goes well this time, only the idiot girl is a little emotionally scarred afterward. Only we don't care because she was annoying anyway.


  • Middie's father tells her that she has to be careful of her dark blue eyes, implying that one day she will need glasses. I had to go research this just a little bit, and besides finding out that lighter irises have a greater prevalence of macular degeneration I have no idea what Frances is talking about. I'm sure this has something to do with her being born in 1918.
  • While trying to get Holiday to not cut corners, he decides to jump a five foot fence instead. Mrs. Bailey is not pleased and Middie defends the horse by scowling and insisting, "He thought I wanted him" to jump the fence. With that sort of attitude I don't see how she could possibly know what she's doing.
  • Holiday refuses a ditch and tosses Middie. Janet notices the horse is sweating and shaking and insists that Middie whip him because he was disobedient in refusing. Like, as in holding the horse's head and smacking him repeatedly. She's a lovable one, isn't she?
  • Mrs. Bailey drives a Packard with velvet upholstery. Again, I have to remind myself that Frances was born in 1918.
After doing a Google search on her, I found out that Frances Wilbur (who did die in 2006) leased a horse called Happy Holiday way back when and decided she had to write his story, so she came up with this book. What is more interesting is she suffered a stroke before she wrote this and had to relearn how to type in order to do it.

The book actually does live up to my happy childhood memories of it, although I don't remember Janet being so annoying. She's got all these color coordinated outfits topped with ribbons for her hair, and she's constantly bitching about how Holiday is going to hurt Middie and then she needs to go curl up somewhere because she thinks she's going to throw up. Seriously, when Middie starts to wonder what is up with this girl she's not being a bitch because everyone else has to be wondering the same thing. I certainly was.

That's all. Just one more book from my childhood revisited.


Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

Holy shit, I've been trying to remember the name of this book for YEARS! I don't remember much about it, but I've been wanting to find it and read it again.

Anonymous said...

someday, i would love to make a list of all the horse books i've read. i am constantly shocked that i have read and forgotten so many of these books, while some others are still so fresh in my mind.

Anonymous said...

She'll has to be careful of her dark blue eyes because they will make boys fall in love with her. It's the dumb kid who thinks that 'being careful' with her eyes implies glasses.